Although she is the first woman to serve as chief executive officer in Parkview Medical Center's nearly 100-year history, Leslie Barnes prefers the focus be on her qualifications and not gender.

"I would like to be thought of as the most qualified candidate and the next CEO," she said. "It's not that I'm not proud of being the first woman, but we don't say 'the next man.' I just want to be known as the most qualified and the next."

Barnes, who replaces Mike Baxter, has 34 years of health care experience, including 20 with Parkview. Like Baxter and the CEOs before him, Barnes progressed through ranks to the hospital's top position.

A certified public accountant, Barnes was Parkview's comptroller before moving up to the chief financial officer position. In 2014, she was named senior vice president and served there until November 2017, when she was selected as the hospital's chief operating officer.

Back in September, when it was announced that Baxter would be stepping down as CEO, Barnes was named as his successor.

"I didn't compete against anybody," Barnes said. "The Parkview board of directors asked me if I would be interested in replacing Mike. I've worked with the board for a lot of years: they all know me. And that's been the tradition at Parkview — the chief operating officers becoming chief executive officers. Our board believes in the people that are here."

Added Jeff Tucker, a Parkview spokesman, "Having a succession plan is helpful in terms of making a smooth transition from one leader to the next. Leslie has been here for 20 years, and a lot of our changes and improvements and growth has come across her desk in one fashion or another.

"She's the most qualified candidate for the job because she's been here and has been involved in the major undertakings."

When Barnes began her tenure at Parkview in the accounting department, she admittedly never envisioned herself as the top executive. But in her various roles at the hospital, making a difference in people's lives always served as a major point of inspiration.

"What's more important than somebody's health?," she said. "I get the opportunity, through all the different jobs that I've had, to support the people who take care of our patients. That brings me great joy, and I think it would bring all of us great joy."

As CEO, Barnes oversees "a senior team, made up of nine other people, that have responsibility for the hospital," and indirectly, Parkview's 3,000 staff and 350 physicians.

"I wouldn't have taken this job if I didn't think our team was outstanding," Barnes said. "The tenure here is excellent and the medical staff is as good as any you will find."

In the final stages of a five-year master plan that will conclude with renovation and expansion of the emergency services department, Parkview, under Barnes' leadership, will not rest on its laurels. Rather, strategic planning has begun anew, a reflection of the growing demand for services and care.

"I think we really are the primary provider for health care in this community," Barnes said. "Last month, we provided over 90 percent of the in-patient care in this community. I feel like we are, overall, the sole community provider.

"St. Mary-Corwin has chosen to specialize in certain areas. But we take care of almost everything, with the exception of burns. We're capable of taking care of our community. That's our job and our duty."

With work on the new strategic plan starting this spring and continuing through the summer, Barnes said data and demographics will be used to determine Parkview's next steps.

"It will help us determine, 'What should we improve? Where do we need to grow? What programs should we do that we aren't doing today?,'" she explained. "And from there, that leads to the construction planning. And with the board's direction, we'll talk about what's next for Parkview."

In her personal time, which she admits is limited, Barnes enjoys travel and visits with her children.

"My job is pretty encompassing," she concluded. "The focus of my life currently is my job."

jpompia@chieftain.com

Twitter: @jpompia